TV Review: “Modern Love” Feels Oddly Old-Fashioned

At every corner of New York, someone could find a love story. This notion is as old as the city itself. Most recently, Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” had a brilliant episode that traversed through three different New York stories over the course of a day. In just 30 minutes, that episode packed more heart, laughs and ingenuity than any of the eight “Modern Love” episodes. The idea of an anthology series around modern love stories piques interest. There’s much to be said about how relationships have evolved in the digital age or in urban locales like New York City. Yet, the execution becomes more dull and dubious with each passing episode. There’s a lot of love going on in “Modern Love,” but not a lot to fall in love with.

The show derives its presence from the New York Times “Modern Love” column. These “slice of life” pieces offer sweet, interesting portraits of some of the love stories that can only happen in a city as big and diverse as The Big Apple. In Amazon’s TV show version of “Modern Love,” the city feels much smaller and more homogenized. Yet the stories all feel whiter, straighter and more affluent, for the most part, than the place it represents. Yes, one could accuse Nancy Meyers movies of the same thing. But those aren’t setting out to represent the broad spectrum of all types of love in New York. We’ve seen a majority of the stories before, which undercuts the show’s mission to provide a look at the modern world of dating, love, family and relationships.

Each of the eight episodes examine a different story and the situations and topics surrounding the characters. Like anyone trying to win someone over, “Modern Love” puts its best foot forward. The first episode, “When the Doorman Is Your Main Man,” stars Cristin Millioti as Maggie, a woman who uses her doorman, Guzmin (Laurentiu Possa), as her gauge of the quality of the men she dates. What starts as an amusing concept morphs into a larger and more ambitious tale of their bond. This demonstrates how the show can sidestep the conventional narrative and provide something unique.

Anne Hathaway (left) appears in the episode “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am” alongside Gary Carr (right)

From there, every episode feels like more of a missed opportunity. The acting remains top notch through most of it. In particular, Tina Fey and John Slattery create a lived-in and specific marital relationship on the fritz in, “Rallying to Keep the Game Alive,” the fourth episode. Likewise, Anne Hathaway appears truly game for everything in “Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am.” Their efforts aren’t enough to fully support their episodes, where the writing never evolves past the logline. Similarly, Dev Patel and Catherine Keener are a joy to watch reading the phone book. Yet, that would be more enjoyable and surprising than the canned greeting card dialogue they spout at each other in “When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist,” the second episode.

If the first half is defined by cute concepts that don’t always fully work, the second half contains blatant misfires that should’ve been scrapped during the brainstorming process. While the music and aesthetics are meant to resemble a Woody Allen movie, the show didn’t need to give us one of the most bafflingly tone deaf May-December would be romances between Julia Garner and Shea Whigham. The title alone, “So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?” paints the perfect picture for what happens throughout their episode. We get our lone gay couple in “Hers Was a World of One,” an adoption story that makes one want to immediately switch over to Tamara Jenkins’ “Private Life” on Netflix. The episode hits the holy trinity of stereotypes — the fussy gay, the supportive baby-crazy gay and the free-spirited pregnant lady.

Julia Garner also appears in “Modern Love” in the sixth episode, entitled “So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?”

Perhaps part of the problem with “Modern Love” is the delivery. Streamed all at once on Amazon Prime, this might not work well on a binge. For romantic comedy aficionados, treat “Modern Love” like a box of chocolates. Eat one here and there, but don’t consume the full box in one sitting or you’ll get a stomach ache. Each “Modern Love” episode gives you more than enough of the typical rom-com cliches. Watched too close together and the various stories blur together like a re-edited version of Gary Marshall’s “Valentine’s Day.”

“Modern Love” premieres on Amazon Prime on Friday, October 18th. Eight episodes were screened for review.

GRADE: (★½)

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